I Thought Working From Home Would Be Easy — I Was Wrong

The latest WFH dispatch from Qualtrics CRO Eric Stine.

Eric Stine is the Chief Revenue Officer at Qualtrics. Recently, for the first time in his professional life, he became a full-time remote employee because of the coronavirus pandemic. Each week, he’ll share the highs, lows, and learnings of a WFH newbie.

Dispatch From the Home Office, Week One

I got home from my last business trip — for a good while, it seems — on Thursday, March 5. It was only a short hop to Toronto and Chicago, but each successive flight made me more and more anxious; every stray cough or sniffle making me wince. Funny thing: The airport was busy on Monday when I left for Canada but quiet on Wednesday when I flew to Chicago. By Thursday it was near barren. When you can buy Garrett’s popcorn at O’Hare without waiting — it’s dark.

That night we ate at a restaurant in SoHo I’ve always loved — Lure Fishbar. Seafood — obviously — and it’s always excellent. It’s designed like a cruise ship, which wasn’t really a great metaphor at the moment. We sat in a banquette at the front — prime real estate: You can survey the entire dining room as well as the subterranean entry. Every 30 minutes a worker would come to the front of the restaurant with paper towels and a bottle of cleaning fluid to wipe down the door handles.

The next day I drove into the city — arriving at 11 and leaving at 3, and making calls from my car in both directions to minimize my time in the office. I met with one other person all day. I haven’t been to Manhattan since.

Saturday, March 7, was the last time I ate at a restaurant — a Mexican restaurant in Fairfield that Neil and I enjoy. I love restaurants; to me, restaurants are theater. People on dates, couples dining together, families. Restaurants tell you so much about towns and neighborhoods; who lives there and what their lives are like. I love to drink wine and watch the people and not worry where Nicholas is dripping ketchup. I like cloth napkins.

Sunday was the last time I took my kids to Stew Leonard’s. Yes, grocery stores are still open, but I don’t want to take my kids there; I barely even want to go, and I love grocery stores almost as much as I love restaurants. All that food; all those choices. I like any place that sells food, I guess.  

But that Sunday was the last time we walked the aisles together, watching the singing milk and looking for Clover the Cow. It just wasn’t any fun to give them a rainbow bagel I was afraid to touch. I skipped the coffee bar because I didn’t want to wait at the counter or stand in line with people.

The following week was a surreal cascade of things slowing down, then stopping. I worked from home all week, but each day brought us closer to the near isolation we are currently experiencing. By Wednesday, they had closed our schools. The world canceled sports and movies and late night T.V. Even the gym closed — and Equinox is open on Christmas, for crying out loud. And — at the same precise moment around the world — everybody was thinking to themselves, “Seriously? Effing Tom Hanks?!”

And so this diary begins the week after the world basically closed, temporarily (we hope). The beginning of After. Or the beginning of “Now and for the Time Being.” Monday, March 16, 2020. The roads are nearly bereft of cars, except those headed to the grocery at 7 a.m. or 8 p.m., in search of fresh produce and the hope of a bottle of hand sanitizer or a roll of toilet paper. If your job can be done from home, then you’re working from home. If it doesn’t, then you either don’t have one anymore or you’re still doing it — often in fear and out of either public service or dire economic need. Welcome to America in the age of COVID-19.

Week One

I thought working from home would be easy. Of course, I once watched the Barefoot Contessa make a summer fruit crostata and thought that would be easy, too. 

Poor Neil… He ate a lot of mediocre attempts at crostata that year.

(Note: Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa herself, says it is always cocktail hour in a crisis. This is among the many reasons to love her.)

I’ve worked remotely for nearly 20 years. I still remember the first time I took a laptop home from work. It was the year 2000 and I was lobbying in Washington, D.C. At my company, it was a big deal to be issued a laptop to take home. That’s right, folks, I got to pay exorbitant monthly fees for high speed internet back in its infancy and spend my personal time working — and I thought it was an honor. 

I’ve worked from hotel rooms, office lobbies, the back seat of countless Suburbans, the middle seat of countless Delta flights. I’ve worked anywhere. I’ve worked everywhere. I’ve dictated emails to Siri at stoplights. 

But I never “worked from home.” I worked in my home; I worked while at home; but I never truly worked from home, day in, day out, working on a sustained and continuous basis. A few days — a week, maybe.

So, in that spirit, here’s what I learned on that first week:

My children are loud.

I can tell what snack they are fighting over. I know when Nicholas won’t share. I know when Noelle is crying like a damsel in distress because she knows I’m home and I will race to her rescue. I can determine which Monster Truck just won.  

I can tell the difference between Pirate’s Booty and Goldfish crackers from the crunch they make — from two floors away.

I look older on video conference.

Maybe it’s because it’s April and I’m still kind of ashy from the winter. Maybe it’s the lighting. Mostly, it’s because I can see my 50th birthday in the windshield — two and a half short years away. The frame on my computer screen that shows me what I look like on video conference is a rude shock, and a stark reminder why I’m not on television. I can see every line, every silver hair. I need to trim the stubble beard I grew to make me look millennial and cool, even though that look is five years old (or 10) and dates me.

Most importantly, flexibility is going to be key. So is empathy.

Working from home on a regular basis is very different from working remotely or “Home Office Fridays.” The kids aren’t in school and I’m certainly not going to a coffee shop to pick up a latte with a side of coronavirus (the number of people still clogging the Starbucks drive thru is seriously confusing me). It is impossible to work between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. in my house — it’s too loud, too chaotic, and no good can come from shouting people down from their shouting. They’re kids and it’s the end of the day.

I’m going to need to rethink working hours — and be sensitive to my colleagues and teams. People with kids home from school may not have a stay-at-home spouse who can educate and entertain them; there may be family members to care for. They may not be able to pivot and create an office out of a guest room (who’s having guests now?).

You never know someone else’s circumstances, and they may not feel comfortable telling you. Respect people’s boundaries — and ask them to set and reset those boundaries based on their needs. You’ll earn their loyalty if you show you care about being flexible to their needs.

Finally, SO much of the media about the sudden stay-at-home life we’re leading is about families — how to juggle two people who work; how to educate/care for/not duct-tape the mouths of children. Don’t forget the people who live alone — I have colleagues with rich, fulfilling lives balancing work and travel and rowing and cooking — and all their social outlets have shut down now. Don’t just be an employee, a leader, a spouse, and a parent — be a friend. The world needs a lot more of them right now.

Working From Home in the New Normal is a data-driven storytelling initiative from SAP and Thrive Global, bringing together insights powered by the Qualtrics Remote Work Pulse with actionable Microsteps and stories from Thrive to help you navigate working from home. Visit daily for the latest data and stories to help improve your focus, prioritization, and well-being.

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